Lose the Fear

I’ve started my first big project at work since coming back from my maternity leave, and I’m in the sketching phase now and very quickly have to finalize ideas (by next Tuesday). And normally during this phase, I get a little anxious about communicating my ideas clearly via my artwork or committing too quickly to ideas that may not work as well as I want with the time and budget constraints that I deal with. But not this time. Maybe it’s an adjusted life attitude now that I’m a mom of two, maybe it’s the lack of sleep from dealing with a teething baby, maybe it’s the changes that are being made at my place of employment, but I feel really good about everything.

It doesn’t always feel this way. Even after creating a work, I’ve had doubts. Every time I’ve shared a painting or a poem, every time I upload something to try and sell on Fine Art America, I’ve felt a twinge of fear.

Creating should feel good. We shouldn’t fear the process, and we shouldn’t fear sharing the creation, but accept that it is what it is. We should move with the flow rather than fight against it as much as we possibly can because it is healthier for us as creatives to do so. The tortured artist stereotype does not have to be a reality because the truth is that we are our own torturers.

So lose the fear. Do what you can when you can, and that is more than enough.

“Your Job is So Cool!”

I am both blessed and cursed by the ability to step back from situations and see things from every angle. Blessed because it makes my ability to understand and work with other people very easy and cursed because it can give fodder to my inner critic.  The evening the Paris attacks began and the other terrible events worldwide were brought to my attention in succession, I had to continue working on a very sparkly fairy tale commission because otherwise I wouldn’t be able to deliver on time. And it fully struck me how really ridiculous my job is, both my day job and most of the commission work I do. Incredibly frivolous. In the daily disasters occurring in the world, the discussions and problem-solving and creating that I am doing is fluff. I should be devoting my energy instead toward actually helping people or at the very least toward more meaningful art.

In that frame of mind, I left for a fast work trip to NYC. I was helping the lead on our next project pull it off under very tight time constraints. I managed to squeeze in seeing a Broadway show (Hand to God – very funny) and as I walked through Times Square with my local friend, two NYC officers stood in a 4’x4′ barricade each holding an automatic rifle at ready, scanning the crowd. My friend didn’t even notice them as we walked by. Very few did. And that alarms me more than the officers standing there on guard. So that thought also was on my mind as I worked.

Back home, the lead and I frantically scrambled to get things ready Wednesday, running out and buying certain needed items as part of our prep work, and the ball of stress and tension and minor annoyances just built and built. Finally, while in one of the stores, someone stopped and asked what I was doing/working on, and I told him, and he responded with “your job is so cool! that’s really cool!”. In that moment, feeling sweaty and disheveled and annoyed and guilty for being all of that in such a frivolous field, I didn’t feel very ‘cool’. I thanked him and smiled though, and then commiserated with the  lead about how people have no idea what the job actually has to deal with and the amount of work involved. Wah wah wah.

But upon reflection, my job is cool. It is ridiculous and at times very stressful but also joyful and unlike anything else that I could possibly find to do, and maybe while frivolous on the surface,  it gives me the opportunity to meld all of my interests into one process that then allows me to help other people tap into their own creative process and build their confidence and occasionally tap into dreams/fantasies that they have. And the joy and confidence they feel because of my work then spreads out to others. Since that is one of my main missions in life, to be a ripple that causes waves, to help others find their own transformative abilities in their lives, the fact that I’m able to do so and get paid for it while simultaneously being creatively fulfilled is really cool. It’s not easy in the least, but it is cool. And for a self-acknowledged lifelong dork, that is really neat to discover.

Fight or Flee

I tend to go back and forth between wanting to just hide away in the woods somewhere, creating the art and writing and music that I want, nurturing my family and friends, and living as sustainable a life as possible verses working deep in the midst of people and areas that need to be woken up, shaken free of their trapped selves, and being an active member of the community.

Most of the time I balance the two, retreating when I need to, but pushing outside my comfort zones when I feel necessary. But I feel like when I swing one way, I’m neglecting the other. I don’t want to wholly move into one way of living over the other, but I’m struggling lately with the urges to swing in the opposite direction coming more frequently than usual. Not very good for accomplishing projects.

But I’ll work through it. I always do.

Which way do you find yourself swinging as a creative? Are you out there in the forefront, or more comfortable hiding away and protecting yourself?

Project Mayhem

I am wrapping up one insane project at work before having about three days to get another one on it’s feet (I’m determined to do this in a way that gives me Saturday completely off… we’ll see if I manage it). While I managed to not have to pull any complete all-nighters, I’m sore and tired, clocking over 75 hours last week and will have put in between 50 to 60 this week. And while I will do my best to only put in 20-30 hours the next two weeks to rest up and use some of those extra hours I’ve banked, I’m in talks to take on a freelance project with an outside company because it is a lucrative offer with a local-ish company that could provide further opportunities in the future, and hey, I’ve got some spare extra hours now.

It is crazy that I put myself through this, absolutely crazy. Any spare moment that I have not been working, I’ve been spending with my son or sleeping. I haven’t exercised, meditated, done my morning pages, played any of my instruments, or touched any personal creative projects. I’m going to have to shell out for a massage because I’m so physically strained. And I only made one brief Facebook post on my personal page about Baltimore and haven’t really had any time to contemplate the earthquake, which is not like me. The company I’m working for really overextended itself on this one for the size that it is, unaware even til last week of how large the project had actually grown. And I asked a coworker why we put ourselves through this, what kind of sado-masochist tendencies actually allow us to simultaneously love and hate what we do and to repeatedly put ourselves through the blender, and her response was “Well, it’s the challenge, isn’t it?” And that is absolutely true. Someone lays out a project for me, and even if my initial response in my head is “You want me to do what?!” but in the back of my mind, I’m already trying to figure out a solution. I love accomplishing the impossible. But is it stupid that I do this? I don’t know. At least my current employer is willing to listen when I say “If we do this again, we need to do XYZ because this was almost impossible to do.” And they will provide the resources whenever they can.

I do not enjoy doing puzzles or playing a lot of games for entertainment. I would much rather be sitting at the table knitting or sketching and talking with people while they play. I think that life, for me, is the puzzle and the game, and I find strategizing and solving real-life problems in creative ways infinitely more interesting and satisfying. Again, I don’t know what that says about my personality.

Next week, if I don’t dive into the freelance project, I’ll take a couple of days to heal up and get into my own space again. And take steps for the next project to minimize some of the crazy.

Career Verses Motherhood

My place of employment where I am part-time salaried and freelance on certain projects is pushing me up to full-time hours for three months starting in a couple of weeks, and they should know soon if they will keep me permanently full-time (all depends on whether certain funding they are hoping to get comes through or not). And I am having mixed feelings on the matter.

On the one hand, I’m really excited. Between the full-time hours and the extra freelance fees, I have a chance to make an actual, grown-up living wage for the first time in my life, from one place of employment, plus fairly decent benefits (as far as working for a non-profit goes, that is). My hours will still remain flexible, in that some weeks I’ll work more and some weeks I’ll work less, and I can still do some of the work from home, but the bank of hours that I draw on will literally be doubled. The projects that are planned for the coming year are incredibly interesting and varied, and having the full-time hours will give me the time to really go in depth on those projects and do the high-quality creative work that I enjoy doing.

On the other hand, it is twice as many hours that I have to work, which means less time spent with my son. Less time to work on personal creative projects. Having to really lock myself in to quality time with both my son and my husband because otherwise I will get too distracted by work and forget. Less time to cook and bake for fun. Less time to take on freelance projects. It means I have to fully relinquish control of the household to my husband (which I’ve already done a lot of) for all of our sanity, which is a rather difficult thing for me to do. But the potential lack of time to spend with my son, even though it is way more than many other parents get to have, is what aches the most.

The dreaded Mommy Guilt is something that will never go away. Balancing everyone’s needs and wants is a difficult task, and one that I’m not entirely sure I’ve accomplished. But we’ll take things as they come, as we always do. As we have to do.

Being in Hot Demand and Dealing with that Pressure

I now have paid creative and freelance work lined up through at least the end of August. So much so that my husband has stopped looking for a regular full-time job and is just riding out this temp job so he can be around to be primary caretaker for our son this summer (picking up extra money working weekends for my father), and will start looking for full-time work in July for wherever we decide we’re relocating to this fall, if we decide to make that happen. Kind of crazy, considering how tight things were for a while this winter.

So half of the work I have lined up is indeed in my previous field, which I’ve mentioned before I wanted to attempt to see if I want to get into again or not. This is the opportunity to try to decide if what I loved about it weighs more than what frustrated me about it, and if I can balance working in this field while still being the parent I want to be. I lucked out with the pay being higher than I anticipated (not the highest I’ve ever been paid but pretty close), and between those 3-4 projects and the work I’m doing for the local shop, we should be set.  In the meantime, I’m finishing up my last contracted job while easing into working for that local shop (and they can’t wait for my availability to open up more) and decided yesterday to work with the place giving me the job in my former field this summer in a lesser capacity on two other projects this spring to get a lay of the land and make some more contacts.

I think I mentioned before that somehow things line up for me when I can determine what it is I actually want. Synchronicity, maybe, or a touch of luck. The path to get to where I want isn’t easy, in any way, and it is never the path that I imagine it will be, but I get there nonetheless. And I realize that I am a cautious decision-maker, agonizing over the options that lay before me, but I think it’s because I recognize the power I have to shape my own life and my tendency to barrel ahead once a decision is made. So before I go at a dizzying pace, I make sure my choices are right for me.

But because of all of this work lined up and because I’m working long hours and letting certain things slide, the pressure has been building inside me. I have growing mommy-guilt at having to rely on more TV than I want over the next couple of months until my husband leaves the temp job. I have a daunting amount of work and projects looming over me, including prepping for the 2014 Buffalo Small Press Book Fair. We just had to deal with the stress of buying a new car, including discovering our title for our old car still lies in CA even though we moved in 2009 (thankfully, the dealership we’re going through accepted a check for the trade-in amount and is just holding it for us until CA comes through). I don’t know when I’m next going to have an actual day off. I need a freaking vacation, and I had hoped to get to Vermont (with a fast day trip to Massachusetts to dip my toes in the Atlantic Ocean) for a few days in April but that is such a slim possibility at this point.  Last week, after working more than 40 hours at the one contract job, I came home to stay up late to finish my first project for the shop, and all while I was doing the work, my brain was screaming “I can’t!” at me. And I had to laugh at myself, because obviously I was doing the work, so I could, but the mental protest was noted.

Everything I do to handle my stress starts to slide when I get busy. First, I stop journaling nightly and it falls to once every two weeks, if I’m lucky. Then meditating at night gets shifted to only a few minutes of deep breathing while I’m sitting or laying in bed. My morning routine goes out the window, and I begin to skip doing Morning Pages and working out (I’ve slipped to about four days a week on each when it’s been almost daily since December). As I’m the fittest I’ve been right now since high school (and healthier as I’m eating less processed and sugary foods than I did as a teen), and as I need to count on my body to not give out on me, I need to make sure I don’t drop down further than this. But the biggest thing I let go is playing my piano and flute. I’m managing to play my flute once a week, which is all that is keeping me from devolving to a weepy mess, but tonight will be the first time I’ve played piano in over a month.

My piano is not in my house, and so due to first having a sinus infection and then having our car die a slow death, I have been unable to make the 20 minute drive to get to it. And now, I am wound so tight it feels like I have a metal snake curling around my internal self. I’m giving off sparks from the tension I feel. For my family, it means that I have very limited patience and can snarl at a moments notice, with only a slight provocation. At work, the patience is still low, but I hide it by becoming super sarcastic and snarky. I start swearing like a sailor, and, funnily enough, yesterday found me doing so with a touch of Irish brogue, saying “fecking”, usually followed by one of the professions that I’m working with – “Fecking _______ (profession plural)”.  Maybe I’m just getting a jump start on St. Patrick’s Day? Anyway, tonight, after working a couple of hours with the new company, I will be going to play my piano. I will feel myself unwind, soothe my inner beast, and probably leave with a slightly scratchy voice because it’s been so long since I’ve played and sang at full voice.

Part of me hates admitting that I need this level of unwinding. It feels like a weakness to me. But it’s so necessary for my sanity and the well-being of all who are forced to put up with me, so now that we have our new car, I need to get back into making the trip out at least every two weeks, and hopefully weekly. I need to get my flute playing back to twice a week. And I can’t wait to move in the fall and be able to have my piano with me again so I can play multiple times a week. I miss it.

Frustrations in Freelancing – “Sealing the Deal” or Wasting Time?

I get frustrated sometimes realizing the amount of time that goes into negotiations for each custom and freelance job I get.  The back and forth emails, the time I have to spend imagining how I’m going to make what I need to make, the online research to get an estimate on the cost of necessary materials if it’s something I’m physically making, sometimes sketching out the details  – all of this has to happen before I even can give the person an estimate and, if they agree to it, draw up a contract.  All told, it’s usually thirty minutes to an hour and a half of my time, and sometimes even when they say “yes, let’s do it” and I spend another chunk of time plugging in details to a contract, the initial 50% payment never comes.

This is, of course, the cost of doing freelance business.  But that time in negotiation (which still results in my probably undercharging for what I am doing) is time that could be spent working on my personal writing or art projects that become potential perpetual moneymakers.  So I resent it.  But there has to be a balance of money coming in NOW while building hopefully bigger profits for the future, so it has to be done. And I always learn a lot by doing projects for other people because it requires me to explore ideas and notions that I otherwise wouldn’t do.

Ideas?  I could build in a modest $10 or $20 contract or consulting fee to every project I do, even if I don’t mark it as such in the process, but that doesn’t make up for the deals that don’t carry through.  And it doesn’t seem fair to charge a paying customer something that a person that chooses not to follow through gets for free.

I guess what I really hate, beyond the time wasting and not making money, is imagining out a project in my head and then not getting the chance to see it through to fruition.  :-/